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Digital Life

25 Useful Apps You May Not Have Heard Of

Published on Apr 5, 2014 9:08 AM


Classic Shell

Free, available from

This can bring back the Start menu in Windows 8 exactly as it appears in older versions of Windows.

This restores the Windows 7 Start menu by default. But you can change it to recreate the Start menu of Windows XP or Vista. This app can also hide the tiled Metro interface of Windows 8.

The only blemish is that the app settings can be overwhelming at the start.

Knox's Room

Free, with in-app purchases, from Windows Store

If you enjoy Rube Goldberg puzzles, Knox's Room should provide a few hours of entertainment.

It features overly convoluted physics-based puzzles that start off relatively easy before ramping up to provide a good challenge for those who enjoy such puzzles.

You can design your own puzzles and upload them for your friends to solve too.


Free, available from

The Live Tiles on Windows 8 look great. But the tiles for desktop apps, which are not downloaded from the Windows Store, look terrible.

The solution is OblyTile, which lets you customise the appearance of tiles for non-Windows Store apps.

You get to decide the background and text colour of the tiles. But you have to search online for suitable images for the tiles.


Free, available from

Like VLC media player, Daum's PotPlayer comes with a number of multimedia codecs so you do not need to download any additional files to play most media files.

The interface reminds me of Winamp - plain, but functional.

More importantly, PotPlayer is able to play DVDs and Blu-ray on Windows 8.

TouchMe Gesture Studio

Free, from Windows Store

With this app, you can customise your own touch gestures for various tasks, such as increasing the volume and switching between apps. Even keyboard short cuts can be replicated with touch gestures.

The app supports taps, swipes and pinches using two, three, four or five fingers.

By Vincent Chang



Free, $1.99 for ad-free version, from Windows Phone Store

This app lets you change phone settings, with icons used to represent the different categories of settings. Some of these settings include Wi-Fi, mobile network and the lock screen.

But its best feature is that you can pin it to the Start screen as a Live Tile, where it will display the status of the phone battery and the free space in the phone.


Free to try, $2.99 for full version, from Windows Phone Store

I like the way this music player takes the album art of my songs and presents it on screen as a vinyl record spinning on a turntable.

I can even forgive the tiny graphical equalizer that turns out to be an animation and not an actual working version.

For $2.99, you get extra features, such as the music being turned on after the phone starts up.


Free to try, $2.99 for full version, from Windows Phone Store

If you use Reddit on your Windows Phone, Readit is the best app to browse the popular social news website.

Readit mimics the Windows Phone interface to perfection. Taps and swipes let you navigate the app one-handed.

You can pin the topics that interest you to the Windows Start screen for quick access.


Free up to character level 10, paid versions start from $4.49, from Windows Phone Store

You are a sword-wielding warrior in Reaper.

The story is linear and dished out in short doses so you can quickly get to the hack-and-slash action. Combat involves swiping and tapping the screen. It is intense but each quest or level is relatively short.

The graphics are charming, while the level design poses a variety of challenges.


Free to try, $1.59 for full version, from Windows Phone Store

With no official YouTube app for Windows Phone, toib is my pick of the numerous third-party alternatives that have sprung up. It has all the standard YouTube features including the ability to view history and playlists.

But its best feature is the elegant interface.

By Vincent Chang



Free, from Google Play Store and Apple App Store

There are several ways to enjoy priceless paintings by artists such as Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, or brilliant photos by Ansel Adams.

One way is to show them in your living room on your big screen TV using your smartphone.

The Artkick app features 50,000 digitised artworks from 2,000 museums around the world. You can pick a series of artworks and have them displayed in atimed sequence, like in a music playlist.

The catch is the app needs additional hardware, like Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku or select Samsung TVs, to work.


Free, from Google Play Store

If you have ever sent a private message to the wrong person, here is one way to prevent a repeat of that embarrassment.

TextSecure is an app that uses both regular SMS and MMS services, as well as the data network, to send private and secure messages to other TextSecure users.

If the receiving party does not use the app, the message will not be sent.

Users can also start private group chats and send encrypted messages, without worrying that hackers can copy and read their chat logs.


Free, from Google Play Store

Managing your Android phone's content just got much easier with SnapPea.

Think of it as iTunes, but without the extra baggage.

Once it is installed on your phone and connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your laptop, you can access your phone on the computer using a Web app, or by installing the SnapPea Windows app.

A cable can also be used. You can back up a phone's contents to the computer, access your photo albums on the computer, and post them on social networks or use the computer to edit the photos.

Walk Type Share

Free, from Google Play Store and Apple App Store

There is no need to join the many clumsy folk who text and type as they walk and end up bumping into people and tripping over things. Or worse.

This app uses your phone's camera and screen to show you what is ahead of you. A transparent keyboard appears on the screen, on top of the ''live'' camera feed, so that you can type while looking down at the screen and still see what lies ahead as you are walking.

The app lets you post updates on Facebook and Twitter. You can also switch on the flash if the path ahead is dark.

SketchBook Mobile Express

Free, from Google Play Store and Apple App Store

Most drawing apps are doodling ones geared towards children.

SketchBook Mobile Express is one of the rare few that give artists more control over their final artwork, with a variety of drawing tools and a colour wheel.

It also provides layers, for those who want to provide more details in their final product.

There are pro versions for mobile phones ($2.52) and tablets ($6.33), which offer more layers, tools and colour options.

By Sherwin Loh



Free, from Apple App Store and Google Play Store

Have an important document you need to sign while you are on the go? Use the SignEasy app to sign on PDF and other documents, such as Word, Excel and even JPEG.

Just import the document from your e-mail, Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive. Next, sign on the document with a stylus or a finger. You can even add initials, date or insert a company logo.

In addition, you can save your signatures, initials and any relevant information for future use.


$2.58, from Apple App Store

Unless you jailbreak your Apple iPhone or iPad, you are pretty much stuck with the icons of the apps you are using. With Iconical, however, you can create customised short-cut icons for your apps.

It lets you create short-cut icons for over 14,000 supported apps, and short-cut actions for more than 200 supported apps.

If you message your best friend frequently, this app lets you create a short-cut icon that allows you to send him a message immediately, without going through the usual steps.


$2.58, from Apple App Store and Google Play Store

It has probably happened to you umpteen times while you are in a country where you cannot read signs or even a restaurant menu.

With CamDictionary, you aim your iPhone's camera at the menu and get an instant translation. You do not need to take a picture and wait for the translation.

It comes with translation support for 37 languages, with some offering text-to-speech support.

You can also copy foreign text and paste it on to the app for a translation.


Free, from Apple App Store

Made for iOS 7, this app allows you to message anyone around you on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch without the need for an Internet connection.

It does this by using iOS 7's Multipeer Connectivity Framework, which lets apps communicate with one another locally over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, without an Internet connection.

You can chat with everyone in the FireChat network but that requires an Internet connection.


$5.98, from Apple App Store

If you are addicted to storing all your documents properly in folders, this app is perfect for you.

It lets you create folders and move, copy and rename your files. You can even open compressed Zip and RAR files (data containers that can store files in compressed form) as well as compress files into these formats for e-mailing to colleagues, clients or friends.

The app also allows you to save the files locally into your iPhone or iPad.

By Trevor Tan

Mac OS X

iA Writer

$5.98, from Mac App Store

There are times when all you need is just a simple word processor.

The iA Writer has only a clean typing sheet - there are no font size, borders or alignment options on top or on the sides.

When you start typing, even the title bar disappears, for totally distraction-free writing.


US$19 (S$24.15), available from

This is a system utility application that cleans, repairs and optimises your Mac.

It provides access to advanced settings that most users may not know about.

You can set it to do daily, weekly or monthly maintenance tasks, such as repairing disk permissions.

Live Wallpaper

$1.28, from Mac App Store

Instead of having a normal still wallpaper for your Mac, why not have one that offers a live clock and weather forecast?

Live Wallpaper comes with 24 themes, each with a unique layout, clock, text and weather forecast.

You can choose themes from Paris to Christmas, and download more themes as well.

Alfred 2

Free, from Mac App Store

Alfred is an application launcher and productivity application that offers a quick way to find files and launch applications.

In short, it is like OS X’s Spotlight but better.

It will learn which apps you use most often and prioritise them accordingly during searches. You can also do quick Internet searches with Alfred.


US$99.95, available from

Pricey but worth it, as this is by far the best Mac recovery application.

When booted up, DiskWarrior will wield its magic as it recovers all your files, eliminates directory damage and cures cryptic errors such as “invalid node structure”.

By Trevor Tan

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 2, 2014.